That high-energy Tigers minor-league post at Single-A West Michigan will have a new manager in 2017.
It has been learned that Mike Rabelo, the former Tigers catcher who was part of Detroit’s 2007 trade with the Marlins that brought Miguel Cabrera to Comerica Park, will be the Whitecaps’ new skipper. Rabelo managed at short-season Single A Connecticut the past three seasons.
Andrew Graham, a highly regarded manager and teacher in the Tigers’ farm system, has been promoted to Single A Lakeland, replacing Dave Huppert, with whom the Tigers have parted ways following six seasons there.
It is anticipated Lloyd McClendon and Lance Parrish, the managers at Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie, will return in 2017, given that both sides have been mutually interested in staying aboard. New contracts could be finalized within days.
Also returning for 2017 will be the Tigers’ roving instructors: Bruce Fields (hitting), A.J. Sager (pitching) and Gene Roof (outfield/baserunning).
The Tigers have parted ways with two farm-system hitting coaches: Nelson Santovenia, who was at Lakeland, and Edgar Alfonzo, who had been at West Michigan.
Mike Hessman, the long-time Tigers farm prospect and minor-league home run king, will move to West Michigan as the Whitecaps’ new hitting coach. Hessman had been on Rabelo's staff at Connecticut during the 2016 season.
Pitching coach Mark Johnson, who has spent the past two seasons at West Michigan, has been asked to move with Graham to Lakeland.
Pitching coach Jorge Cordova is expected to transfer from Lakeland to West Michigan.
No new manager has yet been named at Connecticut, the short-season stop that does not begin its schedule until June.
Rabelo is viewed as a charismatic manager, excellent with young players, who should be a good fit at West Michigan where Fifth Third Ballpark has a heavy following, a high-voltage game presentation, and a community that tends to adopt its players, and staffers.
Graham, a native of Australia and one-time catcher in the Tigers farm system, is a player-development mechanic whose carrot-and-stick ways with young talent has steadily impressed his bosses in Detroit.
McClendon, of course, was a Tigers coach on manager Jim Leyland’s staff before he became Mariners manager in 2014. He agreed last autumn to become the Mud Hens skipper, replacing the retired Larry Parrish.
Lance Parrish was a Tigers All-Star catcher through their 1980s golden days and then was a Tigers coach under former manager Alan Trammell. Parrish became Erie’s manager in 2014.
The promotions of Graham and Rabelo were anticipated after each skipper had gotten steadily solid reviews for their work at West Michigan and Connecticut.